SEARCHING FOR A KEEPER OF THE LIGHT
BY TRACI ANDERSON
Tribune Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2003
CASEVILLE — How would you like to live, in a spacious, bi-Level furnished condominium overlooking the Pigeon River with a view of the Caseville Harbor, gorgeous sunsets, and private access to the only U.S. Coast Guard commissioned lighthouse in town?
If you’re a lighthouse lover and being a lighthouse keeper strikes your fancy, there’s a unique opportunity for you at Caseville Harbor Light condominiums, where the newest official lighthouse in Michigan — the Caseville Harbor Light lighthouse —stands 65 feet tall, with a white tower and a red roof.
Actually, Caseville Harbor Light wasn’t the original name of the Condominiums or the lighthouse — it was Fisherman’s Cove, which was developed by William Crane and James Murdoch. The new name came about by chance. When Crane applied to have the Lighthouse commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard, he received a copy of his approved application and the Coast Guard had typed in a new name for the lighthouse — Caseville Harbor Light. So Crane ran with it. “The name says it all,” he said.
Having a commissioned lighthouse wasn’t Crane’s first inclination at the start of the condominium project a few years ago. “(Having the lighthouse commissioned) was a developing inspiration, ” Crane said. “(The lighthouse itself) was a glimmer from the very beginning.”
Crane, who’s also a judge in Saginaw, has owned the property where the condos are located since the mid-I980s. His original plan for the property was to have a retail business on the bottom level and condos on the second level. The drawings for the proposed building included a lighthouse attached to the structure.
In 2000, he discovered that Caseville didn’t have a U.S. Coast Guard-commissioned lighthouse, which he found hard to believe. “With a town that has 400 boat slips between seven marinas, I thought it was strange that a shoreline community such as Caseville didn’t have a lighthouse,” he said. “That’s what got me going (on having a commissioned lighthouse).”
Crane is a member of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Museum organization, which tried for four years to get a lighthouse museum built on the state dock at Mackinaw City.
“It didn’t pan out, so now we’re looking for a new location,” he said.
A fellow member of the museum organization, Dick Moehl, helped Crane get started in the process of getting a lighthouse commissioned.
Moehl is the president of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keeper Association, and he reestablished the light at the Round Island Lighthouse, Crane said. Moehl referred Crane to a petty officer at the U.S. Coast Guard central region office in Cleveland, Ohio. Crane then filled out an application. There was no fee involved, which pleasantly surprised Crane. “(Getting the lighthouse commissioned) was a relatively speedy process that took less than 60 days,” he said. A petty officer from the Bay City U.S. Coast Guard office visited the site to look over the lighthouse, and it passed inspection. “The most important detail in getting a lighthouse commissioned is that the lighthouse has to be accurately located,” Crane said:
He said the light, which is housed inside the top portion of the lighthouse called the cupola, is the same kind of light as the Round Island lighthouse. The light is concentrated into a three-degree beam that projects out onto the harbor and can be seen for 5 miles. The light is on for 1/2 second for every 10 seconds.
The light, encased in an acrylic covering, has a fresnel lens and five 5-volt light bulbs. Only one is used at a time. As one burns out, the bulbs rotate and the next bulb is used. Since 2001 when the lighthouse first started being used, Crane hasn’t had to install any light bulbs. The lens transmits more light on the horizontal plane than a 200 millimeter pressed glass lens. When he originally put in the light, Crane was concerned people in the neighborhood might be bothered by the light. He installed the light for a 30-day trial basis and didn’t receive any complaints, so he kept it going. Crane said the lighthouse light lines up with the green range light at the end of the breakwall in the harbor to aid boaters in navigating into the harbor.
When the lighthouse was first erected, many people who drove by didn’t realize a lighthouse was there, especially at night, Crane said. He put soft lighting on the outside and inside of the cupola so people could see the structure. The top of the lighthouse has a feature that is common for all lighthouses, Crane said — a ball and a bird’s peak. “The ball is for ventilation purposes,” he said. “Lighthouses used to have kerosene lamps (in the cupola) and ventilation was needed. The peak is to keep seagulls off.”
The Harbor Light lighthouse is a Class II Private Aid, which means it’s located in or near chartered waters used for general navigation. “A private aid is privately maintained, but if the light fails to work and an accident occurs because of it, such as a boat going up on a reef, the person maintaining the light has governmental immunity and isn’t liable,” Crane said. Which brings the subject back to the search for a lighthouse keeper.
The lighthouse currently is owned by the condominium association, but whoever purchases Suite 4 will have the responsibility of maintaining it. “The lighthouse keeper must keep the windows washed and the lighthouse lit,” Crane said. “The keeper can’t put curtains on the windows of the cupola, where the light is located.” Getting up to the lighthouse cupola involves climbing two ladders. It takes some time and some careful stepping to get up to the top, but the beautiful view is worth the effort.
“There are not many lighthouse keeper dwellings for sale in Michigan,” Crane noted. The price of Suite 4 currently is at $236,000, which is more than what the other suites cost, but Crane reminds people of the added benefit of the unique lighthouse keeper opportunity. “I’ve had some people who were interested, but no one has bought it yet,” he said.
Think you’re ready for the lighthouse keeper responsibilities? If so, contact (989) 714-2261. The suite is shown by appointment. The web site, www.casevilleharborlight.com, has more information about the lighthouse and condos.